Try as they might, the Indiana Pacers just couldn't let Jim O'Brien relax and enjoy coaching back in his hometown of Philly. At three separate points in the MLK Day game against the Sixers, the Pacers held at least a 15-point lead and seemed able to dictate the outcome of the game. All three times the lead vanished in the blink of an eye forcing the Pacers to dig into their pool of resolve in order to leave town with the 110-103 win.
What was a pleasure to watch?
- After watching some poor starts lately, the Pacers effort and execution from the opening tip today was refreshing. Jamaal Tinsley had a twinkle in his game in the first quarter and set the tone along with the pace. The ball was moving up court quickly leading to open shots that Dunleavy, Granger, and Rush were all converting. The official shot clock was on the fritz so the Pacers had the old-school clock in the corner. Early in the game it appeared the clock wasn't necessary.
- The Pacers were 10-17 from 3-land in the first half. Kareem Rush made 4 from distance before the break and Mike Dunleavy splashed 3 biggins as part of his 21-point half.
- Travis Diener wasn't spectacular but played solid backup minutes. He made a couple of threes, and dished out 6 assists with only 1 turnover. Pretty solid 15 minutes of support off the bench.
- After Philly made their first comeback, Troy Murphy helped swing the lead back in the Pacers' favor. His 11 second quarter points were a nice boost. Unfortunately, he banged his knee into another player and was unable to return in the second half. The Pacers have to be leading the league in lost minutes due to players banging knees.
- Jeff Foster had a tough game, missing a few bunnies and ending up on the court whenever Philly made a run. You'll notice he finished with a -18 despite the 10 rebounds. But what the -18 doesn't reveal are the huge hustle plays Foster made down the stretch when the Pacers were absolutely stuck in the mud trying to finish the game. Twice in the last five minutes he retrieved a tough offensive rebound which led to more time burning off the clock. One of the extended possessions ended with a Kareem Rush bucket. Foster also made a couple of free throws and delivered a sweet assist to Kareem Rush for a layup.
- With Murphy out in the second half, Ike Diogu was offered some minutes and he took full advantage of the opportunity. 6 points, 4 rebounds and 2 assists in 9 minutes. Plus, he was scrapping in the paint. One of his rebounds was a sweet tip on the offensive end, but I enjoyed both of his assists more than anything. The first had him with the ball around the free throw line. Pump fake, drive to the hole (remember: book on Diogu - in this situation the balls going up) then a quick shovel pass to Kareem Rush cutting to the hoop along the baseline. Nice. The other assist was equally impressive for Ike. He had the ball in the post on the right side and faced up. Since returning from injury, this is where he would rush into a move and try to score. This time he took his time, made a move in complete control and ended up feeding a wide open Diener behind the arc when help rotated over. Diener cashed in the wide open look and I found myself silently nodding my head.
- Obviously, the rapid implosion involved in losing a 15-point lead is hard on the eyes. To endure the same scenario three times in one game is maddening. The Pacers just can't keep the pedal down when they run out to a big lead. The pace slows a bit and shots aren't taken in the same flow and consequently start clanking. The defense is unable to pitch in when the offense goes south, so before you know it, that nice cushion is gone in a hurry.
- As I mentioned above, Mike Dunleavy produced a sweet first half. He was hard to ID in the second half, though. Twice in the second half the Pacers needed some offense to take back control of the game. Dun was nowhere to be found, finishing with only three second half points. Dun played the whole fourth quarter and took one shot and none in the final six minutes. He added one foul and one turnover while the Pacers were trying to avoid giving the game away down the stretch.
- Jamaal Tinsley also finished the game in strange fashion. The twinkle I noticed in his game early, morphed into a deviant smirk. He wasn't pushing the ball or setting up easy buckets. He stayed out of the post on offense and only took one shot down the stretch which was a whirling, one-handed layup attempt. The degree of difficulty was pretty high considering it was only his third shot of the game. In other words, he didn't have any offensive flow going to try and make that circus shot. Despite the early game indications, the aroma of apathy in JT's game was in the air.
- The hardest thing for me to watch was Stephen Graham sitting on the bench for all 48 minutes. Not only did Graham play quite well against the Kings, he brought a dynamic presence to the court. He was running hard up and down the court. Flying toward the hoop and finishing strong. Life, energy, electricity -- Graham brought it all, not only to the team, but the whole building. Marquis Daniels' struggles continue, in fact, he's not even making his patented little jumpers in the lane right now. Why not give Graham a solid look? I know, the coaches see the players in practice every day, they want to play the best players, blah, blah, blah. I LOVED what I saw from Graham the other night. I simply want to see him play again. PLEASE!
The Pacers are 19-23 and off to Chicago for a game against the Bulls on Wednesday. With staggering incredulity, I notice that the Pacers are now tied with New Jersey for the 8th and final playoff spot in the East. Man, it's painful trying to keep the big picture in focus with this team. Who doesn't want to make the playoffs? But I'm far from convinced this is a playoff caliber team. If they can take care of these upcoming road games, I'll give them more credit, but we've been here before.
For today though, a win is a win. Enjoy the W because they are hard to secure these days. Ricky over at Sixers 4 Guidos is certainly not enjoying the loss for the Sixers. Check out his recap.
Also, Jermaine O'Neal clarified his comments as reported by Mike Wells. While his initial comments made it sound like he wouldn't return this year, J.O. wanted to emphasize that his not returning was stated as a 'worst-case scenario' and that he intends to return once his knee improves.